What is mindfulness and its benefits?
Mindfulness is defined as giving something your full attention. To do this you slow down and really notice the world around you. Our minds go at such a high pace that it takes mindfulness practice to slow it down and be in the moment. Mindfulness has many benefits for the body, especially the brain. Many studies have shown that mindfulness is a key element in reducing stress and improves your mood. And we know that stress causes all kinds of ailments and disease. Mindfulness creates a state of relaxation which in turn allows for higher brain function and increased attention. Other benefits include enhanced ability to deal with illness, faster recovery, and decreased episodes of depression.
Pillars of Mindfulness
Jon Kabat-Zin developed seven pillars of mindfulness that you can put into action with your family. You may want to discuss these before heading outside if teaching mindfulness is your goal or incorporate the various pillars into daily outdoor routines.
Non-judging is a way to see that things are not always black and white or good and bad. Being aware of something is better than action.
Patience is important when practicing mindfulness. Being transfixed on the future stands in the way of living in the moment. Moments must unfold in their own time, such as a butterfly cannot be rushed out of its chrysalis.
Learn to see and experience things as new each time with a beginner’s mind. It is a tragedy to allow our experiences to be filtered by what we believe we already know.
Trust your intuition and be open to learning new things. It is good to be yourself and be guided by your ideals. Make choices based on what you think and believe. If something does not feel right, you can honour those feelings.
It is a distraction to try to be different or better. Non-striving allows you to find comfort in who you already are. Without these distractions you can focus on the present moment.
Acceptance does not mean tolerating things you don’t like but does allow you to accept the way things are. Be accepting of the facts found in the world. If you have a sore ankle, accept that. Sometimes acceptance is reached after feelings of denial and anger. In the end we come to terms with what is and accept that truth.
Such as the practice of meditation, mindfulness means we can free our minds and focus on the moment. This may be difficult as we naturally focus on our own thoughts and ideas which are either in the past or the future. Letting go allows us to relax and release our worries.
Now that we have been introduced to the benefits and pillars of practicing mindfulness its time to get outside and start feeling those benefits.
8 Mindfulness Outdoor Activities for Families:
While on a trail, in a city park, or just in your backyard, walk around in total silence and listen. What sounds do you hear? Maybe it’s the leaves rustling, a bird singing, a plane flying overhead, or the sound of your own heartbeat.
Take this a step further and use paper cups as amplifiers by cutting a hole in the bottom of two cups –one for each ear. Place the bottom of the cup up to each ear. Outdoor activities for kids can be as simples as asking them to put on their "deer ears" by cupping their ears with their hands and mimicking the large ears of a white-tailed deer. You will be surprised the difference this simple kids outdoor activity can make.
If you have preschool aged children, it can be helpful to sit in a circle, and ask them to listen for different sounds. Then have them raise their hands when they want to share.
Find your picnic spot and ask everyone to eat a little slower and feel the textures, temperatures, and tastes of each item.
Put down some blankets on the lawn, camp spot, or anywhere natural. Lay on your back (or sit up) and do a body scan. The idea is to bring awareness to different parts of the body.Start with the toes and move up to the top of your head.
This can be done in silence or have each participant share how each part feels. Are the toes tingly? Is the stomach growling?
This is a great activity to incorporate deep breathing. As we calm our breath, we calm our minds. Show younger family members what it means to take a deep, meaningful breath before slowly blowing out the bubbles.
You can also incorporate observation by watching where the bubbles float away to, trying to see the last one pop.
Watch Birds and other Wildlife
Sit still in a natural setting and watch behaviours of the local wildlife. Binoculars may help. You can even try mimicking bird sounds with a Audubon bird call. Take about 15 minutes of silent time to watch and then talk about what you saw, especially if you had never seen it before.
Put out your blankets on a fluffy cloud day and imagine the shapes of the clouds as things on earth. Watch them morph into different shapes and drift away. Childhood by Nature has a great Cloud Meditation that you can use as a guide if mindfulness activities are new to you. You could even try out a Wild Life Outdoor Adventure cloud investigator to discuss different types of clouds and clues they give about the weather.
You could also incorporate a few deep breaths before you begin.
Cloud Investigator Wheel from Wild Life Outdoor Adventures Kit No. 9 Rain or Shine
Outdoor Scavenger Hunt
Create a list of outdoor items and give a sheet to each family member. Take them along to the park oron a trail. Remember that this is not a competition but a practice of mindfulness and heading out with abeginner’s mind.
This is a good one to practice wherever you are to get connected. Take some deep breaths and then answer these questions:
- What are five things I can see?
- What are four things I can touch?
- What are three things I can hear?
- What are two things I can smell?
- What is one thing I can taste?
Try using your senses to do a sensory drawing.
Sensory Drawing Activity from Wild Life Outdoor Adventures Kit No. 6 Go Boldly
Learning the benefits of mindfulness and practicing with your family is a lesson that will bring lifelong advantages in all aspects of life. Getting kids outside doesn't have to always be an epic adventure, sometimes it is the simple moments that create long-lasting memories for kids outdoors.
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